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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Monday, 22 March 2004

Topic: The Media

Sunday as seen from Monday - What do reporters actually do for a living?

Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror
Richard Clarke
ISBN: 0743260244
Hardcover, 304 pages
Publication Date: March 2004
Publisher: The Free Press, Simon & Schuster (Viacom)
Barnes and Noble Sales Rank: 1
Amazon Sales Rank: 7

So this guy was the White House head of counterterrorism for eleven years - he did such work for Reagan, the first Bush, for Clinton for all eight years, and for the second Bush until he quit last spring. And he's ticked off. He wrote a book about why. He says awful things about the younger Bush and his crew, and he said them on national television last night.

The best summary of the business, from Josh Marshall, is here:

The basics:

We seem to have a bit of a contradiction, don't we?

Richard Clarke rolled out his book this evening on 60 Minutes, arguing, in brief, that the Bush administration put counter-terrorism and the hunt for al Qaida on the back burner prior to 9/11 and then after 9/11 immediately started focusing on Iraq even though there was no evidence of Iraqi involvement in 9/11 or even al Qaida terrorism generally.

Meanwhile, on the Washington Post op-ed page, Condi Rice has a lengthy column presenting what can only be called a very, very different picture.

The new administration heeded the warnings of the outgoing Clinton administration and not only focused closely on al Qaida and the rise in chatter in the summer of 2001 but was actually preparing a much more aggressive approach than anything that had been considered previously. What's more, the president himself sensed that not enough was being done and called for further scrutiny into the possibility of a domestic attack and a more aggressive plan to "eliminate" al Qaida.

The president, in the telling of Rice and her deputy Steve Hadley, seems to have been more engaged, forward-thinking and insightful on this issue than literally any other major player on the administration's national security team.

Even with all the vastness of the federal bureaucracy and the possible uncertainties of interpretation, there's no question that one of these two people -- Rice or Clarke -- is misleading us.

Rice was (and is) the president's National Security Advisor. Clarke was in charge of counter-terrorism policy at the National Security Council. Nothing discussed by either on this issue should be a mystery to the other. It's possible that neither is lying in a narrow factual sense. But, at a minimum, one must be giving us a deeply partial and misleading account.
Well, yes.

Question? Is it the job of the press to dig around, gather facts, and point out who is more likely to be fibbing and spinning? Or is it the job of the press to report no more than that "he said this" and on the other hand "she said that" - and stay away from digging around? Anything else would be partisan and certainly not impartial and fair and balanced? Perhaps so.

One thinks of the old Watergate days when Woodward and Bernstein decided the former - digging around and exposing the truth - was what the press was supposed to do. Times have changed. Woodward last year published his book Bush at War - basically a puff piece on what a great guy Bush was and how he was really doing well. Those days when he and his partner were on a crusade to "dig up the hidden" are far in the past. These days the career bureaucrats have to do it themselves - first Paul O'Neill then Richard Clarke.

So what happened to investigative reporting?

The folks who dig around these days are not with the mainstream press. It seems to be the investigative bloggers on the net who do the heavy lifting now. Some of us note things and try to stir the pot. But others actually do digging and keep looking deeply into things. Trent Lott would still be majority leader in the Senate had not he been hounded by web-heads finding this and that and posting his wacky (to be generous) comments. These same "diggers" kept pulling up stuff about Bush's time in the Texas Air National Guard - odd items found and other odd items missing. There are more examples, but those will do to suggest something is afoot. In such cases the mainstream press eventually checked out what these independent sources had found and started reporting it, always graciously acknowledging who did the research, but not getting their own hands dirty with the digging through details.

That's not what the mainstream press does these days. One wonders why this is so.

The big nationally know papers -- the New York Times, Washington Post/Boston Globe/Newsweek (same corporation), Los Angeles Times/Chicago Tribune (same corporation) -- and the national media -- CBS-Viacom, ABC-Disney, NBC-General Electric, CNN-Times Warner, Fox News-Murdoch News Corp - don't do much investigative work any longer. They simply note events, as a general rule. Exposing what's really going on is for them now the exception.

The romantic notion that the press has as its core function to bring the real truth to the public and to keep our public officials honest is now a notion held only by the independents - ex-reporters and economists and whomever with their web logs, and by odd little magazines. I guess that role has become too dangerous for what is now the "corporate press" - a group with masters who have other priorities and wish to please a very broad consumer public where the rule is "offend the most people the least."

Well, CBS-Viacom did do this report on the new book Richard Clarke published. And that is taking a bit of a chance. Because what Clarke contends is, politically, white-hot. And CBS-Viacom would not want to be seen as the tool of the Bush-haters - those people who hate America and side with the terrorists and would like it if Saddam Hussein were back in power. You know who they are. Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity call them traitors, guilty of treason - the liberals.

Well, CBS-Viacom is safe. They didn't say what Clarke said was true. They only reported that he said some things. It's not like they said they believed such things.

Oh, and by the way, here Rush Limbaugh points out that Clarke's book is being published by Simon & Schuster, a publishing company owned by Viacom, which in turn owns CBS, which owns 60 Minutes. (Thanks to Billmon for pointing this out.) Rush's idea is that this proves the whole business is just an attempt by CBS-Viacom to make some money, and thus this whole business should be dismissed as one more example of meaningless sales hype.

So what things does Clarke say that we are being asked to believe, or in the case of Rush, being asked to dismiss?

My favorite segment of what Clarke said on Sixty Minutes last night was this:

"The president dragged me into a room with a couple of other people, shut the door, and said, 'I want you to find whether Iraq did this.' Now he never said, 'Make it up.' But the entire conversation left me in absolutely no doubt that George Bush wanted me to come back with a report that said Iraq did this.

"I said, 'Mr. President. We've done this before. We have been looking at this. We looked at it with an open mind. There's no connection.'

"He came back at me and said, "Iraq! Saddam! Find out if there's a connection.' And in a very intimidating way. I mean that we should come back with that answer. We wrote a report."

Clarke continued, "It was a serious look. We got together all the FBI experts, all the CIA experts. We wrote the report. We sent the report out to CIA and found FBI and said, 'Will you sign this report?' They all cleared the report. And we sent it up to the president and it got bounced by the National Security Advisor or Deputy. It got bounced and sent back saying, 'Wrong answer. ... Do it again.'

"I have no idea, to this day, if the President saw it, because after we did it again, it came to the same conclusion. And frankly, I don't think the people around the president show him memos like that. I don't think he sees memos that he doesn't -- wouldn't like the answer."
Well, maybe Clarke made all this up and it didn't really happen. CBS claimed to have two or three folks who say it did happen, and one person who was actually there to witness the exchange. Curious.

And then there was this exchange over at the Pentagon, with Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, Rumsfeld's second in command:

Clarke relates, "I began saying, 'We have to deal with bin Laden; we have to deal with al Qaeda.'

Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, said, 'No, no, no. We don't have to deal with al Qaeda. Why are we talking about that little guy? We have to talk about Iraqi terrorism against the United States.'

"And I said, 'Paul, there hasn't been any Iraqi terrorism against the United States in eight years!'

And I turned to the deputy director of the CIA and said, 'Isn't that right?' And he said, 'Yeah, that's right. There is no Iraqi terrorism against the United States."

Clarke went on to add, "There's absolutely no evidence that Iraq was supporting al Qaeda, ever."
Well, perhaps Clarke doesn't remember clearly.

Paul Wolfowitz may be "the prime architect and idea man of the second Iraq war." Did he really spend the first eight months of the Bush administration focused on "Iraqi terrorism against the United States" - while all his own sources were reminding him that such terrorism simply didn't exist. Could be.

How can one find out if all of this is true?

Well, the commission on the 9-11 events starts its hearings this week. Most everyone from this administration and the last will testify - expect the National Security Advisor, Condoleezza Rice, who refuses, and Bush and Cheney who will only speak to the co-chairmen, informally, and not under oath, and for only an hour, or maybe a tad more if they really have to.

That alone is a little off-putting. But they're busy guys. Oh well.

It will be interesting to hear what they have to say, and how the mainstream press reports it. If there are more outrageous revelations, can they make such revelations seem bland and not threatening? Perhaps so. We'll get more he-said she-said. And not know just who is full of crap.


Note: my friend, Rick-the-News-Guy, late of CNN and AP, will probably tell me I'm all wrong about the press. And he's buddies with all the key players. And I'll defer to him.

Posted by Alan at 19:23 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 22 March 2004 22:53 PST home

Topic: Music

Notes from all over...

Susan Sontag as a jazz singer?
Say what?
Find out Wednesday night if you find yourself in Nice.

This in Expatica -

Patricia Barber
Chicago jazz pianist and songwriter, Barber is described as a "cross between Diana Krall and Susan Sontag with a throaty come-hither voice".

24 March
CEDAC de Cimiez
49 ave de la Marne
06100 Nice
Tel: 04 93 53 85 95

Oh, and if you find yourself in Paris tonight?

Return of the German rockers who pioneered the use of Moog synthesizers and drum machines in pop music, and pretty much invented techno, dance and industrial.

22 March
Grand Rex
1 blvd Poissoniere, 2nd
Tel: 08 92 68 05 96

Posted by Alan at 09:48 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Sunday, 21 March 2004

Topic: World View

New issue of JUST ABOVE SUNSET MAGAZINE now online!

No blogging today. In fact, I took yesterday off to reedit material for the magazine.

And Sunday is the day I do final assembly and post the week's new issue of this: Just Above Sunset Magazine.

Commentary here will resume tomorrow.

Check it out the news issue of the magazine! There are some "artsy" photos of Sunset Strip in the early morning fog that you might find interesting.

But it is already tomorrow in Europe, and I've been scanning the press.

You might find this of interest.

See Liberty takers: The entire Bush foreign policy is based on a dubious narrative of US history that has freedom at its heart
Tristram Hunt, The Guardian (UK) - Monday March 22, 2004

Tristram ("Sadness") Hunt makes some curious observations on history.

Although the neoconservative polemicist Charles Krauthammer has declared America to be "the dominant power in the world, more dominant than any since Rome", and Paul Bremer, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, sounds every day more like an Edwardian viceroy, the White House is adamant that the war on terror is distinct from the colonial ambitions of previous great powers. Instead, what the Bush administration is concerned with is fulfilling the ideals of the American revolution.

However, although bookshops in the US are awash with new biographies of George Washington, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, what the White House has learned from all this scholarship seems little different from the historical interpretation of the Mel Gibson film The Patriot. For Gibson, the revolution was a clear-cut struggle for liberty from the wicked British.

The neoconservatives have taken this dubious history as read and then universalized the principle. The liberty won by the founding fathers in the 18th century is for the Pentagon hawks a value of global validity. As President Bush put it: "If the values are good enough for our people, they ought to be good enough for others." And as the disillusioned Republican thinker Paul Craig Roberts has pointed out, it is this claim of universality that seems to endow American principles with their monopoly on virtue. It behooves America, as a republic of virtue, to export these ideals around the world.

... This sense of moral clarity is what is meant to distinguish neoconservatism from plain old conservatism. While the likes of Kissinger and Nixon were happy to collude with terrorism and bolster tyrannies, Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense, and Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, will brook no such betrayal of America's heritage. It is this call of historic virtue that accounts for President Bush's recently launched "forward strategy for freedom in the Middle East". Instead of supporting friendly if corrupt Arab regimes, democracy and liberty would provide the litmus test for US diplomacy in the region. "For too long, American policy looked away while men and women were oppressed," announced the leader of the free world. "That era is over."

Leaving aside US support for some pretty distasteful regimes in the oil-rich Caspian basin, or Rice's intervention in the Venezuelan elections, or the decision to postpone the polls in Iraq, there [are] remainfundamental historical problems with the neoconservative vision.

For at the political core the American revolution was a highly restricted notion of freedom: the right of property holders to dispose of their wealth as they saw fit. Many revolutionaries simply wanted to be treated as Englishmen - which might account for Benjamin Franklin lobbying for a job in the Westminster government as late as 1771. No taxation without representation is a very different cry from the universal right to liberty.

Moreover, the property that many founding fathers wanted to protect was their slave holdings.
The whole thing is rather negative. It seems Hunt is arguing that it is presumptuous of the United States to say it is "the best" - the model of how the world should be, and everyone should be just like us, and it is our moral duty to make them over in our image.

As I have said before, if the Canadians thought like this we'd all have get our coffee and doughnuts from Tim Horton's, not Starbucks and Krispy Kreme, and we'd all have to put gravy on our fries. But we're the sole superpower in the world. They're not.

Heck, everyone thinks they're right and everyone else should be just like them. We just have the power to make it so. No one else does. Too bad. We win.

The world is now saying, hey, not so fast, cowboy.

It should be an interesting week coming up.

Posted by Alan at 20:07 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Friday, 19 March 2004

Topic: World View

Wolfowitz wants us, and all nations, to get in touch with our inner bullfighter.
Why would the Spanish find this patronizing?

Paul Wolfowitz is second in command to Donald Rumsfeld. He's Deputy Defense Secretary. And he is considered the leading theoretician of the policy we have adopted as our way of dealing with the world - the preemptive removal of all governments we suspect may, in the future, be some sort of threat. That's the line now. We now admit Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, nor the means to produce them. But as Bush said to Tim Russert last month in that special Meet the Press interview... Saddam Hussein wished he had these weapons. Good enough. Diane Sawyer earlier had pressed Bush on this in an interview - asking about the actual Iraqi WMD (not there, really) and the intent of Saddam to one day, eventually, maybe, get some WMD (there, of course). Bush's reply? "What's the Difference?" Bush doesn't do nuance. He says so. Flat out.

But Paul Wolfowitz is supposed to do nuance. He's the deep thinker in the administration. He's the one who helped work out this: we now reserve the right to judge if any country might, down the road, carry out possible future hostile actions against us, regardless of their present capabilities or current resources, or even any and all claims that they have no such intentions, and act accordingly. That is we have the right to invade and occupy that country and compel that country to create a government of which we approve.

One might say... bull? But that's precisely the point. Wolfowitz thinks we should think like the Spanish. No, not the Spanish who just tossed out the Aznar guy and elected a "socialist." Wolfowitz wants us, and all nations, to get in touch with our inner bullfighter. Really.

Of course these comments caused a lot of Spanish people to step back in puzzlement, then in anger. The Spanish know bull when they see it.

See Spaniards See Red Upon Hearing Top U.S. Defense Official's Comments on Bullfighting and Iraq
Andrew Selsky, Associated Press, Published: Mar 19, 2004

Here's the gist:

In an interview on PBS television Thursday, Wolfowitz said [newly elected Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez] Zapatero's withdrawal plan didn't seem very Spanish.

"The Spaniards are courageous people. I mean, we know it from their whole culture of bullfighting," Wolfowitz said. "I don't think they run in the face of an enemy. They haven't run in the face of the Basque terrorists. I hope they don't run in the face of these people."

"This is an ignorant comment," snapped Madrid firefighter Juan Carlos Yunquera, sitting on a bench outside his firehouse. "For a top official, it shows he doesn't know what he's talking about."

Yunquera, who heard the American official's remarks on the radio, pointed out that Spaniards overwhelmingly opposed the war in Iraq, even as Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar joined President Bush's "coalition of the willing" a year ago and later contributed troops for the occupation.

Prime Minister-designate Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, elected in the aftermath of the devastating bombings, has pledged to withdraw his country's 1,300 troops from Iraq unless the United Nations takes charge.

Carlota Duce, a waitress at the Retinto Bar, where a bullfighting sword, lance and hat hung on a wall above patrons sipping beer and eating tapas, said she had no use for such comments.

"It's drivel," she said above the strumming of flamenco guitar on the stereo. "There is absolutely no comparison between bullfighting and Spain pulling out of Iraq."

Zapatero, who won Spain's elections last Sunday, pledged repeatedly while campaigning to withdraw Spain's troops from Iraq unless the United Nations takes charge.

Bartender Oliver Iglesias said there was a kernel of truth in Wolfowitz's words.

"We are indeed very brave," he said. "But no one here likes the war in Iraq. And there's a big difference between killing a bull and killing a person

Gustavo de Aristegui, a legislator and spokesman in parliament for Aznar's Popular Party, also criticized Wolfowitz, saying: "A top-ranking politician should be more careful about the remarks he makes, and that's all I'm going to say about Mr. Wolfowitz."

Yunquera, the fireman, said he was annoyed that Wolfowitz even mentioned bullfighting.

"I've never liked bullfighting," he said. "If I was to describe Spain, I would say Spain is a tolerant and joyful country and not even mention bullfighting."
Well, it seems the Spanish people mentioned here felt a bit patronized.

But you see from the bartender fellow what the real problem is. They don't like killing people. Bulls, yes. But it's different with people? One assumes that's what is being said.

I guess such a position makes them cowardly appeasers. If only they were more like us.


And this doesn't even cover the problem with the French. Visit Arles in late summer and buy yourself a ticket to the bullfights at the old Roman amphitheater there. The damned French don't even kill the bulls; they just get them really irritated. Just what you'd expect, I suppose.

But the way, that old Roman amphitheater in Arles really has been around a long time. Here's a shot of its structural detail from June almost four years ago. I was a month or more too early for the bullfights. Oh well.

Posted by Alan at 18:36 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Thursday, 18 March 2004

Topic: Music

More on Shostakovich and Stalin

As I see from my "hit counter" not many people read the piece in my magazine last Sunday on Shostakovich and Stalin. That's here.

Well, my friend Kevin, who wrote a few film scores himself, traded some email with me about Shostakovich and politics. The question really is this - what was the net effect of Stalin hammering Shostakovich so hard, for political reasons that had little to do music?

From Brian Micklethwait (London) writing in we get this.

Oh yes, Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Here's the core of why Uncle Joe actually did some good, according to Micklethwait.

Shostakovich was almost certainly a better composer after Stalin had given him his philistine going-over following the first performances of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, than he would have been if Stalin had left him alone. Although both are very fine, I prefer Symphony Number 5 ("A Soviet Artist's Reply to Just Criticism") to Symphony Number 4.

Had Shostakovich continued unmolested along the musical path he was traveling before Stalin's denunciation of him, I don't think he would merely have become just another boring sub-Schoenbergian modernist. He was too interesting a composer for that already. But I do not think his subsequent music would have stirred the heart in the way his actual subsequent music actually does stir mine, and I do not think I am the only one who feels this way.

Thanks to Stalin, if that is an excusable phrase, Shostakovich was forced to write what is now called 'crossover' music, that is, music which is just about entitled to remain in the classical racks in the shops, but which also gives the bourgeoisie, such as me, something to sing along to and get excited about. Shostakovich had always written film music as well as the serious stuff. What Stalin and his attack dogs did was force him to combine the two styles. He might well have ended up doing this anyway, but who can be sure?

What Stalin also did for Shostakovich was to make his music matter more. Thanks to Stalin (that phrase again!) every note composed by Shostakovich became a matter of life and death - while it was being composed, and whenever you listen to it.

Stalin turned Shostakovich into a kind of musical gladiator, a man who knew that every day might be his last. Not many composers get that kind of intense attention....
Everyone needs to be challenged now and then, it seems. Being attacked makes one respond, or might make one respond. And that response can be transforming.

Thus Michael Powell and the FCC might make Howard Stern into an important and insightful political voice in America.

Well, maybe not.

Posted by Alan at 18:41 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

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